Mealtime for kids can be a tricky thing to manage. Many parents these days are balancing spending quality time with their children and completing household and job-related tasks, so it can be tempting to simply hand-feed your child so you can move on with your day. But by doing this, you may miss a valuable opportunity to empower your child to become a more independent eater. Let’s go over 4 tips that can help your child turn mealtime into “my-time”!
1. Understand child-sized portions and adult-sized portions
A common issue is that parents may be giving their children too-large portion sizes right away. When you give your child a full serving of something, such as a whole sandwich, it can be overwhelming to them. They might think, “I have to eat all that,” even if they don’t want all of it. This also applies if you take the same serving size and cut it into smaller pieces. It still looks like one large meal to them. They might start pulling the sandwich apart and playing with it when they don’t want any more.
Smaller portions of food can make mealtime less intimidating for your young ones. Instead of putting an entire sandwich in front of them, which might be too much, try to put just a quarter of a sandwich on their plate, which might not be enough. This can encourage your child to ask for more if they want more, which allows them to develop a sense of responsibility for their own hunger.
2. Watch for signs that your child is full
It can be challenging to tell if your child is full if they don’t yet have the language to tell you, but there are telltale signs that can look out for.
The most common reaction you’ll see is that your child is pulling their food apart or flipping their bowl of food onto the ground. While this can vary based on the child’s temperament, chances are good they’re not being fussy for the sake of it — they’re likely just full. They might not have the communication to tell you they don’t want anymore. (Step 1 can help you prevent repeated mealtime messes like this.)
If your child is old enough to communicate, start a conversation about their mealtime preferences. If they’re full, they can let you know.
3. Empower their sense of ownership over mealtime
Montessori methods always emphasize the child’s ability to care for themselves. In this spirit, you can let your child decide what they want to eat. You can pack a small lunchbox for them to choose from. Then, prompt them to only take out the food they want to eat. If they want more, they can get more food out themselves when they’ve finished the food on their plate. You could even encourage them to clean up after themselves!
This provides the child with a sense of ownership over their mealtime as opposed to passively receiving a plate that’s plopped in front of them.
4. Let your child practice with cutlery
When your child is getting used to eating, they’re going to start grabbing the food on their plate and putting it in their mouths. This might be appropriate for dry Cheerios, but certainly not for spaghetti and sauce.
Introducing your child to cutlery early can save you a lot of headaches when it comes to cleaning up. Give your child a low-mess meal that they can spoon or fork into their own mouths. A small bowl of applesauce is a great starter for spoons, while chunks of fruit like watermelon can help them get used to forks.
You can also engage your child in some Montessori-approved activities involving cutlery to help them learn. This could involve scooping non-edible items out of one cup and into another, such as dry beans. Activities like this can also help your child develop their fine motor skills!